A brief history of reward in the workplace

The topic of rewards in the workplace is not a new one. There are a number of theories and discussions around the subject, dating as far back as the 1920’s. The Hawthorne studies of the 1920’s, conducted by Elton Mayo and Frits Roethlisberger at the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric Company were part of a study to stress the socio-psychological aspects of human behavior within organizations. The researchers theorized that monetary incentives and good working conditions generally had less of an impact on productivity than employees being able to choose their coworkers, working as a group, being acknowledged or treated specially and having a compassionate supervisor. The study essentially concluded that although financial motives were important, social factors were equally important in raising the levels of productivity.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is something most of us are familiar with. According to Abraham Maslow, employees have five levels of needs. These needs are physiological, safety, social (love/belonging), ego (esteem) and self-actualization. He noted that lower level needs, mainly the physiological and the safety, would need to be achieved before the next level would motivate employees.

According to Fredrick Herzberg’s motivation theory, the two-factor theory, intrinsic factors (motivators) such as recognition and achievement produce job satisfaction, whereas extrinsic factors (hygienes) like pay and job security produce job dissatisfaction.

Though there are other motivation theories out there, the common thread between these and the theories of Vroom and Skinner is that positive reinforcement encourages productivity due to having a motivated workforce.

What we believe

We at Apex believe that it is important to acknowledge and reward deserving employees. Employees who excel. Rewards strategies have been closely linked to employees being motivated and productivity being increased. There are theories and research to prove this. Although increases and bonuses are great and do encourage the workforce, to a certain extent, it may not always feasible to reward employees in this way.

We also believe that organizations should foster a culture of acknowledgement and reward not only to increase productivity and motivation, but simply because there are employees who are deserving. This spirit behind rewards creates the feeling and belief that the organization is as invested in its employees as it is in the organization itself. It creates the impression that people are important, they are seen and they are an integral part of the business. A motivated and productive workforce would in any case be a byproduct of such an organization.

The modern world of business, much like our pre-historic ancestors seeking food, is based on a system that rewards us with a burst of Dopamine for each goal or target that we reach. This over-reliance on dopamine releasing incentive schemes has resulted in reward systems that are unbalanced. Our incentive structures are almost entirely based on achieving goals and getting financial rewards for doing so. These incentive schemes usually also focus on rewarding individual performance. This creates competition between co-workers which accidentally promotes behaviour that is focused on achieving the goals and targets of individuals rather than the organization as a whole.

Most organizations do not reward employees for cooperating, sharing information and reaching out to other employees in order to offer and ask for help. There is therefore very little positive reinforcement for behavior and actions that maintain a cooperative workplace.

We believe that there are a number of rewards that can and should be considered, particularly given the stresses and demands of the modern day. Together, we can review your organization to find a fitting rewards scheme that will celebrate employees, inevitably motivating and increasing productivity, while at the same time not bankrupting the organization.

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